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Why we need more programmes like Chewing Gum

16 Jan 2016

Autumn 2015 witnessed the release of the new sitcom Chewing Gum on E4, written by and starring the talented Michaela Coel. Finally, a comedy realistically depicting a young, black woman in a positive light has hit TV screens across the UK and it is the breath of fresh air we have all been craving.

Chewing Gum follows the story of 24 year-old Tracey hilariously navigating her way through life, sex and her Christian family. Unlike most programmes set in and around estate life you will find no gun crime, violence, misogyny or murder here. Chewing Gum puts a positive and realistic spin on a damaging stereotype of inner city life. She is just a young, carefree, black woman, surrounded by hilarious friends and family that she loves.

There is an obvious difference between black and minority ethnic characters written by white writers in comparison to those written by BME writers. Coel manages to rid stereotypical and tiresome tropes often given to black, British women on television simply by having a black girl as the lead. It seems black female characters are usually created to be the friend who lifts up the white lead, or they are the judge, the social worker or nurse who has about five lines and lacks any depth of character.

Tracey is a multifaceted character; she wears preppy, pastel clothes and backpacks with her hair in pigtails proving that black girls have varied fashion sense and individuality. And although she is discovering her sexuality during the show, she begins the programme as a 24 year-old virgin without multiple children from multiple fathers (which needless to say is completely okay but unfortunately has become the one of the only identities for black women). The protagonist is painfully awkward and embarrassing, she says and does eye-wateringly cringey things at times making her wholly relatable. Perhaps her character is an exaggeration, but Tracey is still realer than any black girl currently seen on British television.

For most, television is a crucial way to learn about other races and cultures that you may not come into contact with in everyday life. People often believe the representation of different groups portrayed to them are factual, and Chewing Gum brings a new and refreshing illustration of women of colour to the masses.

Chewing Gum is the start but we need more TV shows like this. America have Shonda Rhimes paving the way with How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal, depicting strong powerful, rich People of Colour. And family sitcoms have finally made a return to American screens with Fresh of the Boat and Black-ish.

Now it’s time for Britain to start having more diversity on our screens, we need to see more than impoverished, rude and helpless black women on television, and illustrate a more rounded and realistic depiction of women of colour. Not everyone finds four middle-aged white men laughing about politics on a panel show the height of comedy. British comedy has become stagnant, we need to go back to the time where there was more diversity on television with shows  like the BBC’s The Real McCoy. Finally, comedies like Asian Provocateur and Chewing Gum are proving that we are finally on the right track.